Sunday, January 18, 2015

Great manager does not keep bullshit away from me

Ilari-Henrik Aegerter made a good point yesterday in evening discussions on the fact that there are very few line / business managers in the ranks of context-driven testing. It's great that while he is nowadays a manager set to be just that in the future, he still chooses to hang out in testing crowds.

Listening to him, I realise I have the habit of moving between a manager role and a tester role, and that from a personal preference point of view, I'd like to see test managers being very hands-on to be respectable while line/business managers I consider a different trade.

When talking about his work as line manager responsible for 20 subordinate managers, Ilari talks about shielding / protecting as his responsibility.
Hearing this, I realised that I don't want my manager to shield / protect me, I want my manager to support me. I consider this a relevant difference. I don't want my manager to "remove impediments" for me, I want my manager to support me in removing impediments. A significant part of my happiness at work is the versatility of tasks I work on, and I would find the idea of boxing the work into "tester work" and "manager work" uncomfortable.

Let's look at a tangible example. To get our testing done, we will need hardware and organisation tends to make hardware acquisitions difficult. If I would work on hardware acquisition, it would be time away from my focus on testing. It could be a welcome change that increases my motivation. Or it could be needed at a time, when I could really appreciate someone else helping out with that particular thing. Instead of seeing that as manager responsibility, I like the idea that managers responsibility would be to help and support when I need it - like when I want to and need to focus.

When I remember back on things I'm particularly proud of in my career, many of the things that come to mind are things that could have been "manager work" that I did as a tester. Seniors can do things, and make things happen. Hardware example is good in the sense that I remember getting two of my organisations to invest significantly into test environments in cases where others would tell me it is not possible - and yet it only took making the business case visible.

There has been examples where I really appreciated my manager doing things for me, often bureaucracy. I remember fondly a manager who created a flexible job description for me in an organisation where that was "impossible". I love my current manager (eh, last year's manager) for letting me run my own collaboration reviews and just supporting my ambitions and goal setting instead of trying to set my goals for me. And I remember with warm thoughts a manager who refused to be an escalation channel for the discomfort my existence created in the organisation, but would always sit me in the table with the relevant parties to resolve what ever issues were at hand.

I don't like the tester / manager role and responsibilities split as I want to deal with versatile challenges. Then again, I realise other testers might want stuff to be done for them. I want the control to myself on when I focus just on testing and have asking for help as my responsibility.

When I work as manager, I tend to consider my role to be helping. If it means collecting the empty soda bottles away from the test lab, so be it. It can mean doing the work that no one else volunteers for, or pairing up to do that work. It can mean running some nasty bureaucracy with creative interpretations of the external requirements (my specialty). And as line manager, there are specific responsibilities on hiring and compensation that might be hard to delegate on the decision level. But as a tester, I would like to see my manager actively delegating wide responsibilities to me.

Sense of being given versatile multi-role responsibilities is essential for my happiness. I appreciate my current managers for understanding that and never telling me that "this is not a tester responsibility".  I love dealing with bullshit and I excel at that. And it does not mean that I have to become a manager (for a change). Testers can do that too.

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